Review: IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 User Guide by Karen Hooper

Last month, Packt Publishing gave me a free review copy of the IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 User Guide by Karen Hooper. Finally, someone had put out a book for the end user to really utilize to be able to learn how to use the Lotus Notes client. Would it be good enough to really help a user without overwhelming them in detail?

The book starts out with an overview of the Lotus Notes interface, and does a wonderful job pointing out all the nuance in the Lotus Notes client. Clearly labeled screenshots are backed by explanation on how everything works. This chapter is essential for new users or those of you that are upgrading from the older interfaces found in version 7 of the client and earlier. You learn all about the open button, sidebar, and even the more familiar elements like toolbars and tabs. That said, many users tend to miss these details, and this chapter will really fill in the gaps of understanding they might be missing.

Next the book delves into Sametime in Chapter 2, the RSS Feed Reader in Chapter 3, and Widgets in Chapter 4. All of these chapters are very well written and give a lot of detail, but I may have shifted them around myself, as chapters 5 and 6 are really where a user is going to get the most bang for the buck. Chapter 5 goes over mastering the basics of Lotus Notes email, while chapter 6 goes more in-depth with all of the email tools (colors and recipient icons, spell check, message recall, out of office etc.)

That’s really the only misstep the book ever makes in my opinion. Users are really more likely to utilize mail, calendaring and contacts than the Feed reader or Widgets. I mean, the third chapter is devoted to the Feed reader, which no one I know utilizes as it’s functionality is so limited. But by surfacing it in the book prior to email, it seems to give it more prominence than I would have liked to see. Once again, those early chapters are well written and give tons of detail, I’d just like to see them pushed to the back of the book.

Initially I had been disappointed that there wasn’t a chapter dedicated to the vast amount of Preferences you can set in the client, but as I read the book, I found that Karen added preference sections to each of the chapters, detailing each set of preferences along with the section she was explaining. This is actually the best way to go about it, as it doesn’t overwhelm the reader with so many pages in a row dedicated to all of the settings you can configure in the client. Once again, this is perfect for the end user to get the information they need right away.

To wrap up the book, Karen included chapters on working with Notes applications, working remotely, and utilizing Lotus Symphony. Working remotely and utilizing Notes applications are two of the differentiators of Lotus Notes when comparing the client to others on the market. As such, I was thrilled to see these each get their own detailed chapter. As for Symphony, the chapter gives a brief overview how to utilize Symphony from within the Lotus Notes client, but doesn’t try to teach you anything about how a spreadsheet or word processor works. Obviously, each application could have it’s own book written detailing how to use it, so the overview did a good job not trying to cram too much of that information in. The book did include URL links pointing to information at IBM, but that was annoying to me. They should have included shortened URLs instead of something like the following: Are we SURE that link isn’t going to change? Is any user going to type that behemoth in? I don’t really think so, but that’s really a minor annoyance for an otherwise really good book.

That’s the thing, there’s not much to criticize here. For many years, there wasn’t a clear, concise book showing users how to use Lotus Notes. It’s a market that has been completely lacking, and Packt Publishing and Karen Hooper have done a killer job in coming up with a book that’s easy to read, gives the appropriate amount of detail, and touches on the right things. I would have moved the chapters around a bit, and fixed the links, but if that’s all I had to criticize, you know you are in for a good read. If you have users that need some education on the Lotus Notes client, this book is just the thing. Snag your copy today!